Durham, N.C. — The annual North Carolina Gay Pride Celebration in Durham Saturday had a slightly different tone this year – there was music and a parade, yes, but there was also a sense of urgency as the state's LGBT community prepares for a spirited fight ahead of the May primary.
On the ballot in May is a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would make marriage between one man and one woman the only domestic legal union recognized in North Carolina.
"We're all free, we're all human. It's about love. Love is love," said Susan Donahoo, who opposes the amendment.
Event participants posed for photographs with duct tape over their mouths and carried signs shouting "Be Heard" to protest laws passed across the nation outlawing same-sex marriage that they say have silenced gay and lesbian people.
"We have to work really hard to defeat this," said John David Overton, who represents Come Out 4 Equality, a new grassroots organization that joined other same-sex marriage supporters in pitching tents on Duke University's campus to rally opposition to the amendment.
Supporters of the amendment were also there, and attendees got a glimpse of the passionate debate over same-sex marriage that lies before them.
"We intend to keep the rhetoric positive. This is about marriage, the protection of marriage," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director for the North Carolina Values Coalition. "We expect a groundswell of support from people across the state because the polls tell us that people care very deeply about protecting marriage from being redefined."
Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of North Carolina Policy Watch, worries that the debate could turn ugly.
"I think, unfortunately, there will be a number of opportunities for demeaning speech," he said. "I think we've had, generally, a deserved reputation as a progressive southern state and I think that's at stake here."
Fitzsimon said his group will be watching the policy debate closely in the coming months.
"We're going to actually vote and have a majority decide the rights of a minority in North Carolina," he said. "That's not what the Constitution is for."